Six teenagers were stabbed in Montgomery County yesterday in attacks at a high school and at a shopping mall that left five of the victims severely wounded.

One police official said she believed that the attacks, first at Springbrook High School and then at a Target store in Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton, involved youths from the same groups.

"This was not a random assault," Capt. Patti Walker said at the scene of the Wheaton attack.

A police spokeswoman, noting the similarities in the attacks, which were three miles and four hours apart, said that the department was investigating whether they were connected but that she could not confirm that they were.

Three people were taken into custody in Wheaton and several others at Springbrook, police said, but none had been charged by late last night.

A witness to the stabbings at the recently renovated Westfield mall shortly before 5:30 p.m. said she saw "two or three" assailants atop one of the victims.

"I could just see the knife going up and down," shopper Trudi Brown said.

The father of one of the Wheaton victims, 16-year-old Francisco Rodriguez, said his son preferred playing video games at home to going out. "He never went out until today," said the father, also named Francisco Rodriguez. "Today he went out, just for this to happen to him."

Rodriguez and other relatives waited anxiously at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda last night for word on their children's conditions.

Two of the Wheaton victims were listed in critical condition last night. Two others were in serious condition. The victims in both attacks, all male, were expected to recover, police said.

The mall's owner, Westfield America, has spent $130 million over the past two years to transform the 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center, and the county's first Macy's recently opened there, along with numerous specialty stores.

According to police spokeswoman Lucille Baur, the attack at Springbrook, in the Colesville area, came after two summer school students, ages 16 and 17, argued in the school with a group of others. It was not known whether those others also were summer school students.

After classes, the two youths left the building on Valley Brook Drive and were walking down the street after 1 p.m. when they encountered a group of people.

It was not yet clear, Baur said, whether the people who had argued with the youths were in the group they encountered outside, but the two knew at least some of the others.

A fight began at the edge of a school parking lot. One of the attackers produced a knife, and the 16- and 17- year-old each were stabbed a number of times.

School staff members rushed to the scene and began first aid. A group of youths was taken into custody for questioning.

The older student, an 11th-grader at Springbrook, is in serious condition and was in surgery late yesterday afternoon, Baur said. The younger student, a 10th-grader, was not as seriously injured. Neither was identified by police.

Five security staff members were on duty at Springbrook yesterday. Joan Carroll, a school official who worked with police at the scene of the stabbings, said there had been no serious incidents reported at the school this summer.

"There was no hint that anything was going to happen," Carroll said. "They said it was a very calm day."

The school will hold an assembly Monday to discuss the incident, and officials will distribute a letter for students to take home, Montgomery public schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison said. A crisis team will also be at Springbrook on Monday to provide counseling.

The incident at Target, three miles southwest of the school, began about four hours later. According to Walker, of the county's 4th Police District, four male teenagers had gone to the mall with some female friends. At the mall, Walker said, they encountered about five or six other young people. A fight broke out, and the four male teenagers were attacked in the store, police said.

Brown said she was shopping near Aisle 12 when she heard a commotion.

She said a store employee with a walkie-talkie came running toward shoppers, shouting: "There was a stabbing! There was a stabbing!"

At that point, she said, she looked up and saw an attack at the front of the store. A friend of hers told The Washington Post that three assailants had a victim on the floor.

"There were three guys on one person, just stabbing him multiple times," she said.

One of the first rescuers to reach the scene and find the victims was Stephen Sobolewski, deputy chief of the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad.

"The first one we found in front of the door, and then people just started pointing. 'We got more inside the store. We got more inside the store,' " he said.

In addition to the first victim, Sobolewski said, one was found near a cashier, another just inside the mall entrance, between the mall's door and the store entrance, and another on a sidewalk outside the mall.

Baur, the police spokeswoman, said three of the teenagers stabbed at the mall suffered injuries classified as life-threatening. The injuries to the fourth were described as serious but not life-threatening.

The Associated Press reported that Eduardo Gamera said his 17-year-old nephew David was stabbed four to five times in the face, head and stomach at Target.

David's friend Jorge Perez, 23, of Silver Spring said he believed that David was attacked because he did not want to join the Mara Salvatrucha gang, the AP report said.

In describing similarities between the attacks, Baur noted their proximity and that all the victims and their assailants were believed to be about the same age. Baur said police have not confirmed any gang connection.

It was unclear last night what, if any, effect the attack would have on efforts to upgrade the mall and give it a more upscale image.

Marc Sohm, operations manager for Target, said the company was "saddened" by the stabbings. He said the store's prime focus was the safety of shoppers and employees.

Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud said that the store has "sophisticated security programs in place" and that it would "take whatever steps are appropriate."

The store is scheduled to reopen at 8 a.m. today.

Staff writers Michael Barbaro and Martin Weil contributed to this report.

Officials block off the entrance to a Target store in Wheaton after four people were stabbed inside -- one of two similar attacks in which five people were wounded. "This was not a random assault," an officer said at the store.